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The acknowledged want of the means of a higher Christian education than could be obtained within their bounds led several Annual Conferences, in the year 1871, to appoint delegates to a Convention, to "consider the subject of a University such as would meet the wants of the Church and country." The Convention met in Memphis, January 24, 1872, and was composed of delegates from Middle Tennessee, West Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
The Convention was in session four days, and adopted a plan for a University. Under the plan a Board of Trust was nominated and authorized to obtain a Charter of Incorporation, under the title of "The Central University of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South."
A liberal Charter was obtained that year, and the Board of Trust met January 16, 1873, and completed its organization. By-laws were adopted, and agents appointed to solicit funds. A University in fact, as well as in name, had been determined on; in the words of the Convention, “An institution of learning of the highest order and upon the surest basis, where the youth of the Church and the country may prosecute theological, literary, scientific, and professional studies to an extent as great, and in a manner as thorough, as their wants demand." The members of the Convention were not ignorant of the vastness of the undertaking, nor of the magnitude of funds essential to success. Their judgment in the matter was expressed in the form of a resolution declaring that One Million of Dollars was necessary to perfect their plans and realize fully their aims; and so important was it, in their estimation, to avoid an abortive effort, that they refused to authorize steps toward the selection of a site and the opening of any department of the University until the public showed itself to be in sympathy with the movement by a valid subscription of Five Hundred Thousand Dollars.
Such, however, was the exhausted condition of the South, and so slow its recuperation under the disorganized state of its labor, trade, and governments, that the first efforts to raise funds showed the impossibility of the enterprise. The yearning desire of our people seemed destined to disappointment for this and following generations, and the well-laid scheme was already—in the judgment of some of its warmest friends—a failure. At this crisis Mr. VANDERBILT came to their help. In his sympathy for a people struggling to revive their fortunes, and to secure for their posterity the highest blessing of Christian civilization, he stepped forward and, by his princely gift, gave form and substance to the plan. The Board of Trust, in accepting the donation, as an expression of gratitude resolved to change the name of the projected Institution to VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY; and on their petition the Charter was so amended. Thus the VANDERBILT, like the more successful institutions of learning in our country-as Harvard, Amherst, Dartmouth, Cornell, Peabody— inherits the name of its founder.
The following important paper-the original proposition of Mr. VAN
DERBILT concerning the University-is here inserted as the fundamental fact in its history:
TO BISHOP H. N. McTYEIRE, of Nashville:
NEW YORK, March 17, 1873.
I make the following offer, through you, to the corporation known as The Central University of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South:
FIRST-I authorize you to procure suitable grounds, not less than from twenty to fifty acres, properly located, for the erection of the following work. SECOND-TO erect thereon suitable buildings for the uses of the University. THIRD-You to procure plans and specifications for such buildings, and submit them to me; and, when approved, the money for the foregoing objects to be furnished by me as it is needed.
FOURTH-The sum included in the foregoing items, together with the "Endowment Fund" and the "Library Fund," shall not be less in the aggregate than Five Hundred Thousand Dollars ($500,000); and these last two funds shall be furnished to the corporation so soon as the buildings for the University are completed and ready to be used.
The foregoing being subject to the following conditions:
FIRST That you accept the Presidency of the Board of Trust, receiving therefor a salary of Three Thousand Dollars per annum, and the use of a dwelling-house, free of rent, on or near the University grounds.
SECOND-Upon your death, or resignation, the Board of Trust shall elect a President. THIRD-TO check hasty or injudicious appropriations or measures, the President shall have authority, whenever he objects to any act of the Board, to signify his objections, in writing, within ten days after its enactment; and no such act is to be valid unless, upon reconsideration, it be passed by a three-fourths vote of the Board.
FOURTH―The amount set apart by me as an "Endowment Fund" shall be forever inviolable, and shall be kept safely invested, and the interest and revenue, only, used in carrying on the University. The form of investment which prefer, and in which I reserve the privilege to give the money for the said Fund, is in seven per cent. First Mortgage Bonds of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company, to be "registered" in the name of the corporation, and to be transferable only upon a special vote of the Board of Trust. FIFTH-The University is to be located in, or near, Nashville, Tennessee.
At a called meeting of the Board of Trust, on March 26, 1873, the above letter, containing Mr. VANDERBILT's proposition, was duly presented, and the following resolutions were adopted:
RESOLVED, That we accept with profound gratitude, this donation, with all the terms and conditions specified in said proposition.
RESOLVED, That, as an expression of our appreciation of this liberality, we instruct the Committee hereinafter mentioned to ask the Honorable Chancery Court to change the name and style of our corporation from The Central University of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, to THE VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY; and that the Institution, thus endowed and chartered, shall be from henceforth known and called by this name.
Mr. VANDERBILT afterward added to his original gift, without
rial change of conditions. In a letter to Bishop McTYEIRE, dated New York, March 24, 1874, he says:
Referring to your letter of the 17th inst., I beg to say that the plans you have shown me, as therein stated, are approved.
As you express some doubt whether the "Endowment Fund" of Three Hundred Thousand Dollars can be preserved, if these plans are fully carried out, and as you consider such a Fund of vital importance to the success of the Institution, I have decided to add One Hundred Thousand Dollars ($100,000) to the whole Fund.
An eligible site was selected in the West End of Nashville-a plat lying in an oblong square, and containing seventy-four acres. Ground was broken for the main edifice of the University September 15, 1873, and the corner-stone was laid April 28, 1874. By October, 1875, the various buildings and apparatus were in a condition of readiness for opening the University; and a Library of about six thousand volumes had been collected.
The main building contains Chapel, Library and Reading-room, Museum, Laboratories, and Lecture-rooms, and Offices for Professors. In all its arrangements it is ample and well ventilated, built according to the most approved models, and suitably furnished, and warmed throughout by steam. On the grounds are eight professors' houses, recently constructed; also, a commodious building, capable of accommodating thirty or forty young men, appropriated to the use of a certain number of students in the Divinity School.
These structures, together with Observatory, outhouses, and accommodations for the Janitor and other employés of the University, present, at convenient distances from the principal building, a group of eleven brick and an equal number of frame buildings. The grounds have been well inclosed and suitably improved with roads and walks, water and gas pipes, and the planting of about one thousand trees.
While these expensive improvements were in progress a financial panic fell upon the country: banks closed, and even Government works were suspended; but Mr. VANDERBILT steadily furnished the funds, and there was no delay, at any time, on that account.
The Professor of Chemistry, who formerly studied at Heidelberg with Bunsen, returned to Germany, after his election, for the purpose of investigating the latest methods and instruments of scientific teaching, and to purchase a complete outfit for his Department. The Chancellor inspected the leading institutions of the country before making out the Curriculum of the University, and in April went abroad to procure, on personal inspection, the Physical and Astronomical Apparatus. The United States revenue laws allowing such articles to be imported free of duty, by an institution of learning for its own use, this arrangement was economical, in view of the large outlay for these purposes, and also secured the latest improvements in scientific furniture.
The situation of Nashville could not fail to commend itself to the comprehensive views and practical judgment of such a man as Mr. VAN
DERBILT when founding an Institution of Learning for Southern youth. In the midst of a food-producing country, it meets the first conditions of good and cheap living. The climate is salubrious, equally free from the rigor of Northern winters and the debilitating heat of lower latitudes. Central between East and West, its railroad system makes it accessible to students from every part of the country, and especially is it convenient to the teeming populations of the Valley of the Mississippi.
It is allowable, in this connection, to allude to the effect of this benefaction upon public sentiment. It was without precedent. A citizen of the North, Mr. VANDERBILT could have found there ready acceptance of his gift, and built up an institution rivaling those which abound in that wealthier and more prosperous section of the country; but to the South he looked, and extended to her people what they needed as much as pecuniary aida token of good-will. The act, timely and delicately as munificently done, touched men's hearts. It had no conditions that wounded the self-respect, or questioned the patriotism, of the recipients. The effect was widely healing and reconciling, as against any sectional animosities which the late unhappy years had tended to create. A distinguished statesman remarked: "Commodore VANDERBILT has done more for reconstruction than the Forty-second Congress." And when the lifesize portrait which adorns Central Depot in New York, as duplicated by the skill of Flagg, the original artist, was unveiled in the Chapel at Nashville, thousands looked upon it then, and look on it still, as upon the face of A FRIEND AND BENEFACTOR.
It happened unavoidably—when was it ever otherwise?-that the cost of completing plans of such magnitude outran the most careful estimates. No architect or builder can foresee all the items of expense that are developed as such a work progresses. So it was in this case; but the considerate generosity of Mr. VANDERBILT was equal to the occasion, as the following letter shows, on his transmitting to the Board the Endowment Fund ($300,000), being notified of their readiness to take charge of it:
No. 25 WEST FOURTH STREET, NEW YORK, December 2, 1875. BISHOP H. N. McTYEIRE, President Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.
MY DEAR SIR-I have looked over, in a general way, the statement of expenditures made and to be made on account of the at first called "Central University of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South," which name was subsequently changed to "VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY"-the compliment of which action, on the part of your Board of Trust, I fully appreciate.
Your statements show that the expenditures already made, with the additional ones necessary to be made to cover all the cost of grounds, buildings, books, and apparatus, and all salaries and incidental expenses to the first day of December, 1875, so that the Institution will, on that day, be entirely free from all debt and obligations, amount to $392,831 46. Of this amount you have already drawn on me for, and I have paid, $360,000. For the balance, $32,831 46, you may draw on me whenever, and as fast as, the items, to the payment of which it is applicable, can be paid off.
At this point I desire to say that I am fully satisfied as to the faithfulness and, also, the judiciousness with which the expenditures have been made, and with the clearness with which they have been classified and stated.
When I made my proposition, under date of March 17, 1873, to give not less than $500,000 to the Institution, it was, as you will remember, expected that at least $300,000 of that amount could be preserved as an "Endowment Fund," which was to be kept "forever inviolate and safely invested, and the interest or revenue thereof, only, used in carrying on the University."
Under the representations made in your letter of March 17, 1874 (just one year after my proposition was made), that the cost of completing the erections, and their suitable appurtenances, would, under the plans that had so far been worked upon, impair to some considerable extent the originally-intended amount of the "Endowment Fund," I agreed, in my letter to you dated March 24, 1874, to "add $100,000 to the whole fund "-making it $600,000-upon the condition that not over $300,000 (including what had already been paid) should be used for the grounds, buildings, etc., and that at least $300,000 should be reserved as an "Endowment Fund," to be kept inviolate, as provided in my original proposition.
When I saw you at Saratoga Springs, last summer, you stated that the completion of the work would impair the "Endowment Fund," even as fixed in my second offer; and I said that whatever obligations were incurred on account of the work must be paid off, so that the Institution would be absolutely free from debt, even although it required all the "Endowment Fund," my opinion being that no real fund of that nature could exist so long as any indebtedness was outstanding against the Institution.
When the amounts you have herein been authorized to draw for shall have been paid, so that the Institution will be clear from all debt to the first day of December, 1875--making, as herein before stated, an aggregate of $392,831 46-it will leave but a trifle over $200,000 for the "Endowment Fund," instead of $300,000, which last, from the outset and all through the progress of the work, was considered a matter of very great, if not of vital, necessity.
Upon a careful review of all the circumstances, and consideration of the objects sought to be accomplished by the Institution, and feeling that its beneficial operations should not be restricted, now that its material structures are so well adapted to success, I have decided to make an additional contribution, sufficient to bring the "Endowment Fund" up to the full amount of $300,000, as originally contemplated-thus making an aggregate contribution of $692,831 46.
[Here follows a description of the sixty Bonds, of $5,000 each, sent as the invested Endowment, seven per cent., payable semi-annually.]
And now that I have fulfilled my undertakings in this matter, I beg, in closing these statements, to say that to you, my dear sir, who have labored so actively and so earnestly in carrying out the plans for the University-and have labored so efficiently, too, as its inauguration within thirty months shows-and who will, as the President of the Board of Trust, have the chief responsibility in respect of the accomplishment of the educational purposes for which it was undertaken, I tender my personal expressions of extreme regard, trusting that the healthful growth of the Institution may be as great as I know it is your desire and determination to make it. And if it shall, through its influence, contribute, even in the smallest degree, to strengthening the ties which should exist between all geographical sections of our common country, I shall feel that it has accomplished one of the objects that led me to take an interest in it.